The Elk Grove City Council on Nov. 10 unanimously voted to approve an ordinance allowing for neon signs to be used by Old Town Elk Grove businesses off of Elk Grove Boulevard.

Prior to the council’s vote, neon lighting was prohibited within the entire Old Town Special Planning Area (SPA), with the exception of certain sized “Open” signs in business windows, and a neon “Bob’s” sign affixed to the exterior of the Bob’s Club building at 9039 Elk Grove Blvd. Given that the latter sign has been posted for many years, it was grandfathered into the Old Town SPA, which is generally located along Elk Grove Boulevard from Elk Grove-Florin to Waterman roads.

During their meeting, the council deliberated whether to support the Elk Grove Planning Commission’s Oct. 25 recommendation to allow neon signs to be used by any business within the Old Town Special Planning Area.

The issue of whether to allow businesses in Old Town to add neon signage to their buildings occurred through a request from the Dust Bowl Brewing Co., which plans to open a taproom in a historic building on Railroad Street next month.

That request was for the installation of a metal sign with individual letters outlined in neon tubing. That tubing would create illumination projecting outward from the sign.

Dust Bowl had already obtained a variance through the Planning Commission to have a business sign placed atop the roof, in order to protect the structure’s historic brick during the mounting process.

Elk Grove Council Member Darren Suen expressed his interest in Dust Bowl’s neon sign request.

“I recognize that the neon sign is something that we need to be open to, and I think it’s done in a tasteful manner,” he said.

Christopher Jordan, the city’s director of strategic planning and innovation, noted that because of the long history of neon signage, which dates back to the 1920s, some of Old Town’s buildings may already have a history of neon lighting usage.

He recognized the former neon sign that once stood in front of the EG Club, where Happy Garden Chinese cuisine restaurant, at 9081 Elk Grove Blvd., currently operates.

Jordan also mentioned the neon sign at Bob’s Club.

Through outreach with the Old Town Foundation, it was requested that only one neon sign be allowed per business, and that those signs – with the exception of “Open” window signs – be prohibited.

Brett Honoré, one of the owners of the Dust Bowl Brewing Co., told the council how meaningful neon signage is to his business for the Railroad Street building.

“Searching for a sign to put on that building, we really struggled with anything other than a neon sign or something that looks like neon,” he said. “It really brings about and a nostalgic look for that area, and our goal is to get a lot of people down to Old Town and experience it, and kind of help the development (of that area).”

Elk Grove resident Randy Bekker shared his support of “neon returning to Old Town.”

“It is a great place to have it, given the history of neon and the Old Town SPA corridor,” he said. “I can understand that some people have concerns of changes; however, we made a change by not allowing neon (in Old Town),” he said.

Old Town resident Peggy Forseth-Andrews spoke against having the SPA changed to allow neon lighting for businesses. She claimed that neighbors to the south of the project were not sufficiently contacted or allowed to provide input on that proposal.

“I think it’s important to note that there doesn’t appear to be sufficient education going on regarding the SPA (regarding the signs),” she said.

Forseth-Andrews requested that more community input be gathered from residents throughout the city.

“We’re talking about updating the SPA (in a few months),” she said. “Why are we rushing into this amendment?”

She also requested that if the council supported neon lighting for Old Town, that such lighting only be used off of Elk Grove Boulevard.

Council Member Pat Hume mentioned that he felt Forseth-Andrews brought up “good points” regarding making a “blanket change” ahead of the larger update to the SPA.

He suggested the approval of Dust Bowl’s request, and that the neon signage could be further reviewed during the SPA updating process.

“(That approach could get Dust Bowl) on their way, but not necessarily really open up Pandora’s box,” he said.

Hume spoke positively about Dust Bowl’s neon sign proposal for their Old Town taproom.

“(The Monterey sign) looks exactly like the sign that they are proposing (for Old Town), and it is not this bright (sign with) a lot of spillover and light coming off it,” he said. “It does have a glow to it, but (it) is very attractive, and I believe would serve to potentially draw people off of Elk Grove Boulevard who didn’t know about it or weren’t headed there originally.”

Suen mentioned his support of such things as using methods to minimize glare from the neon lighting, and the use of dimming controls.

“I think a lot of these will speak to Peggy’s concerns,” he said.

The council ultimately supported Hume’s motion to amend the Old Town SPA to allow neon signage for Old Town businesses only off of Elk Grove Boulevard.

It is also a requirement that neon overlap a sign’s existing graphics, and those signs will not be permitted to have a flickering effect or animation. The signs will also be required to have automatic timers to restrict their periods of illumination to business hours.

A city zoning code requires that a failure to keep a sign properly maintained would result in the revoking of a business’s sign permit, and the sign would be ordered to be removed.